Barry Trotz Believes In His Second Line Center - but Who Is It?
The Washington Capitals are going into training camp down an important piece in their lineup - a true number two center. The absence of Mikhail Grabovski, who was lost to the Islanders via Free Agency, is an enormous hole to fill, considering how well he played the position last year.
Whether you like to believe it or not, the Caps answered some questions on defense this offseason, signing Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen to multi-year deals totally around $67.5M. However, with only a hair over a million bucks to spend, it's painfully obvious that General Manager Brian MacLellan (GMBM) overspent and now the Caps are looking to fill that number two spot with current roster players.
Per Dan Rosen of NHL.com:
“I’m looking at it in a number of different ways. You’ve got Marcus Johansson, who has played wing but he’s a centerman with great speed in the middle" said Barry Trotz. "...in the two-hole I’m really looking at a number of guys. I’m going to put guys in the middle during camp. I’m going to put Marcus Johansson and Kuznetsov in the middle. Eric Fehr played in the middle last season, but I think he’s probably going to end up on the wing. Organizationally they added Andre Burakovsky, and I’d like to see him in the middle. We did that during development camp and he was outstanding in the middle. We’ve really got a few options there and I think that’s good. What you’re seeing in the National Hockey League now is the more people who can play center the better."
From the looks of it, Trotz is more than ready to throw Johansson and Kuznetsov into the fire, and let them battle it out for the center position, and with Burakovsky apparently in the mix it makes all of this quite interesting.
Burakovsky was the 23rd pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, and he's shown a lot of promise lately, playing extremely well in the Caps Development Camp a few weeks ago. He's naturally a left wing, but Trotz liked what he saw and said that either Burakovsky or Kuznetsov could take the center position with the other one moving to "the wall," as Trotz put it.
While that sounds all fine and dandy on paper, the idea of having one of Johansson, Kuznetsov, Burakovsky or Eric Fehr play the "middle" on the second line kinda scares the hell out of me.
Marcus Johansson hasn't really found his game in the past few season with the Caps, and that's not entirely his fault either. The amount of coaches and systems this kid has had to endure probably has his head spinning. Of the four potential options, he is the best one, but I'm not sold on that idea until I see it. Is he mature enough to handle that kind of role? Perhaps, but compared to what they had in Grabovski last year, it's a downgrade.
When it comes to Kuznetsov and Burakovsky playing that position, I just don't think they are ready for that kind of pressure. Kuznetsov is a dynamite player. He showed last year what he can do in only a few games, and the potential he has to be a superstar is more than ready to pop out this season. However, the responsibility of playing center in this league could be something that he's not ready to take on. He's not Datsyuk or Malkin and definitely not Toews. He's better served playing wing and getting used to a full NHL season first.
As for Burakovsky, the probability of him even playing this year isn't 100% yet. I expected him to be playing in Hershey with a call up from time to time. Sure he played well in camp, but that was against kids, not against seasoned pros, so come training camp he may not be as impressive as he was a few weeks ago. He's still going to be a good player, but I'm afraid of the Caps rushing him into things and not letting him develop properly.
Trotz also added (Per Dan Rosen):
“The center-ice position is where I’m going to focus a lot of attention. I think we’re going to be a lot deeper through the middle of the ice then I even expected.”
Let's hope so Barry. He obviously sees something that a lot of us don't, but I guess that's why he's a veteran NHL coach and I'm just a lump in a computer chair.
GMBM hasn't done a poor job by any means in his short tenure. He's given the Caps a strong back-end (whether you like to think so or not, he has), something they haven't had in a long time. However, the hole that Grabovski leaves is a big one, and whether GMBM is actually done with off-season moves is something only he can answer. If the Caps aren't doing well come December, something is sure to happen.
I'm still positive about this season, mainly because it couldn't possibly be worse than last season. Of all the changes that have happened to management and coaching and even the roster, this can truly be called a "New Era" in D.C.
Let's just hope it's trending the right direction.
More to come....
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